NEW PORT RICHEY — Much has changed since 1973 when President Richard Nixon started a second term, “The Godfather” won the Best Picture Oscar and Watergate hearings in the courts and Congress were heating up.
However, time could not dim Henry Fletcher’s enthusiasm and passion for music. During that turbulent era, Fletcher, at the age of 27, began more than four decades of service to the music program at First United Methodist Church of New Port Richey.
Now the congregation is paying tribute to Fletcher with a retirement party Sunday for their music director since 1973. Fletcher is warming up his trumpet to play a few tunes himself and join his many musician pals.
Fletcher, 69, decided it was time to pass the torch as director of music for the venerable church at 5901 Indiana Ave. However, he intends to keep playing with the Richey Concert Band and pursue his other hobbies and interests.
“I moved here to teach school,” Fletcher said. In 1972 he started at Elfers Elementary School, now known as Mittye P. Locke Elementary.
“I stayed there my whole career,” Fletcher said about his 28 years as music director. “I was enthralled with the place.”
“I have 10 people at least in Richey Concert Band that started with me at Locke Elementary and still play,” Fletcher pointed out. “That really thrills me.” In fact, three generations of one family perform in the band.
He watched one of his protégés, Ruthie Vaughn, grow up from a kindergartner to married woman Ruthie Nelson. She will be singing at the Sunday tribute.
“It’s a pretty amazing career he’s had serving this community,” the Rev. Betty Batey, pastor of First United Methodist, said about Fletcher.
“Henry is one of these amazing people,” very compassionate and forgiving, Batey added.
Fletcher is the “Music Man for the community,” Batey said, referring to the 1962 movie musical.
Fletcher discovered he was a gifted piano and trumpet player by ear at a young age.
He has directed Richey Concert Band for almost 42 years. The band grew from 25 players to more than 85 during his tenure. The band plays concerts at River Ridge and Sims Park.
He formed, directed and wrote all the music for the semi-professional Silver Cornet Band, which performed in Pasco County in the 1980s, according to a brief biography on the church website.
Fletcher played lead trumpet in the “pit” orchestra at the Richey Suncoast Theater for more than 20 years. He also played at what is now the Straz Center, in Tampa, and the former Bayfront Center, in St. Petersburg,/ for the original Broadway casts of “West Side Story” and “Forty-Second Street,” to name a few.
He directed and arranged music for the all-men chorus Jubilee Singers from 1999 to 2010, and the Thursday Musicale from 2002 to 2010.
He was also named Teacher of the Year at Locke Elementary in 1992. He was given the key to the city of New Port Richey for outstanding community service in 1993. Most recently, he received a Community Service Award from the DAR on March 30.